China is recasting Wuhan as a heroic coronavirus victim and trying to throw doubt on the pandemic’s origin story as it aims to grab the a story at a time of growing global mistrust of Beijing.
The PR blitz plays out day by day in comments by Chinese officials and lavish state media coverage of a “reborn” Wuhan that trumpets China’s epidemic-control efforts and economic recovery while the US struggles.
The drive peaked up to now week as Chinese primary schools welcomed back students with appreciable fanfare and Wuhan hosted executives from dozens of multinationals, from Panasonic to Dow and Nokia, on a highly choreographed tour of the central Chinese city.
Also read: 50,000 people taking part in phase 3 trial of Chinese Covid-19 vaccine
“There are few places on this planet today where you don’t need a mask and can gather,” a Chinese official, Lin Songtian, told the executives, implying that Wuhan was once a kind of places.
“This testifies to Wuhan’s triumph over the virus and that (the city) is back in commerce.”
Missing in this retelling, on the other hand, is that a wet market in Wuhan is widely believed to be ground zero for the pandemic.
China’s foreign minister suggested on August 28 throughout a European outreach shuttle that the virus might not have emerged in China.
The drive indicates China recognises Covid-19’s damage to its brand and wants to leverage its reasonably successful recovery to counter growing international challenges, analysts said.
China faces foreign bitterness over the virus and an initial cover-up attempt by Wuhan officials, plus criticism of Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong and in most cases more aggressive international posture.
“Beijing wants the a story to be: we handled it, we will be able to can help you deal with it and (with a bit of luck) we’re the first to have a vaccine that works,” said Kelsey Broderick, Asia analyst with Eurasia Group.
“That’s actually the only way China can come out ahead of the concept that a wet market in Wuhan started this crisis.”
The fumbling US pandemic response provides a lucid opening, said Yun Jiang, director of Australian National University’s China Policy Centre.
“The truth that the USA isn’t just not doing enough, but in reality doing things that go against American interests, is a huge help to China,” she said.
The three-day Wuhan tour also included foreign media outlets and ended Saturday.
It featured primary-school students performing traditional Chinese opera and ballet, a renovated food market presented as a mannequin of sanitation, and a Yangtze riverfront cruise underneath a skyline ablaze with towering light displays referencing the virus recovery.
Also read: CNBG, Sinovac find takers in Pakistan and Bangladesh: The most recent on coronavirus vaccine
The city of 11 million — which suffered more than 80 percent of China’s 4,634 Covid-19 deaths — has come a long way since the pandemic’s grim early days, when a suffocating weeks-long lockdown rendered it a ghost town.
No new native transmissions have been reported in months, traffic jams are back, shoppers cram malls, and al fresco diners gobble up the city’s signature spicy crayfish dish.
Face masks sag from the neck or are deserted altogether.
The growing confidence was once displayed at a Wuhan pool party attended by thousands of mask-less people final month that prompted out of the country accusations of recklessness after images of the event went viral.
China countered that the party indicated the nation’s success in taming the coronavirus.
“What risks can there be?” asked Wuhan factory worker Xie Ailiang while speaking to AFP.
“I think now Wuhan must be absolutely protected.”
‘Winter is coming’
But not everyone is taking a victory lap.
Many Wuhan citizens express persistent concern over an uneven recovery and fear of new outbreaks.
“The economy has actually declined. The good thing about even coming to work is questionable,” said Yi Xinhua, 51, who sells tofu from her stall at a Wuhan wet market.
Blocks of tofu were neatly arranged by shape and size, but there few buyers — Yi says her sales are only half of the pre-pandemic level.
It’s a common complaint in Wuhan, blamed by many commerce owners on lingering fear of going out in public and the widely expressed belief that millions who fled the city early in the pandemic have still not returned.
Wuhan employers complain online that the exodus has also reduced the native labour pool.
And memories of a subsequent virus cluster in May, which triggered a citywide effort to test millions, remain fresh.
“Everyone is afraid the epidemic will return, you realize? The summer is over, and winter is coming,” said Yi.
“We’ve retrieved a bit. But whether the virus comes back, we’ll be hit again.”